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3/29/2007
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Judge Rules Against DVD Consortium

The court said a startup's media server does not violate the Content Scramble System security technology used to protect DVD disks because the standard licensing contract and specifications for the technology are so poorly worded.

SAN JOSE, Calif. — A Superior Court judge ruled Thursday (March 29) a startup's media server does not violate the security technology used to protect DVD disks because the standard licensing contract and specifications for the technology are so poorly worded.

The decision marks a rare, though small victory for a Silicon Valley startup facing the interests of a group of large movie studios and consumer and computer companies. The ruling also could open the door for other systems makers who want to design personal video libraries that store DVD movies on hard drives.

Judge Leslie C. Nichols ruled against the DVD Copy Control Association (DVD CCA) in a civil suit that asked the court to force startup Kaleidescape to change its design or stop selling its server that stores hundreds of DVD movies on a hard drive array. Nichols said the basis for his decision was his ruling that an entire section of the DVD CCA's spec for the Content Scramble System (CSS) was not technically included as part of the license agreement.

"This [CSS spec] is a product of a committee of lawyers," said Nichols in his ruling.

In testimony, witnesses said the CSS specification was drafted a decade ago by a team of lawyers mainly from Hollywood studios working with the advice of a small group of engineers over the course of more than 100 meetings. "It is almost self evident that there is potential for confusion there," said Nichols.

Specifically, Nichols ruled that a 20-page document known as the CSS General Specification was not part of an overall group of 170 pages of technical specifications defining CSS. The DVD CCA relied on language in the general spec to assert any system playing DVD movies has to have the physical disk present.

The Kaleidescape system imports DVDs into a hard drive array for future playback. The DVD disks do not remain in the system, something the DVD CCA said would allow users to keep unauthorized digital copies of rented or borrowed DVDs.

Kaleidescape maintained the CSS agreement allowed the company to build a system that kept a single, protected copy of a DVD on a hard drive for private use. The company has a policy against importing rented and borrowed DVDs. It said the fact such disks could still be imported is a problem for studios, not Kaleidescape to solve.

Nichols also faulted the DVD CCA's process. The group makes the CSS license available on the Internet, but does not provide legal or technical guidance on implementing it, something Kaleidescape sought. "I saw this as a case where no one sat down to talk," said Nichols.

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